Wounds can hurt in more ways than one, especially when they limit your ability to perform everyday activities. While minor cuts and scrapes can often be treated at home, chronic wounds may require medical attention. It’s important to recognize when a wound warrants a doctor’s visit, as comprehensive wound care can minimize pain and shorten recovery time.
Nearly everyone will experience a wound at some point in their life. Acute wounds generally occur as a result of trauma, and typically heal within a few weeks with proper care. Falls, injuries from sharp objects and car accidents are some of the most common causes of acute wounds. Acute wounds include all types of cuts, scrapes, tearing of the skin and punctures.
Acute wounds can sometimes be treated at home by simply cleaning the wound and applying a bandage. Applying ice can minimize bruising and swelling, and taking the recommended dose of acetaminophen, like Tylenol, will relieve pain. You should see your doctor if an acute wound is deeper than a half inch, if bleeding doesn’t stop with direct pressure, or if bleeding lasts longer than 20 minutes. In the case of a serious accident, seek immediate medical care.
To treat a more serious acute wound, a doctor will first clean and possibly numb the area. Then, they may close the wound using glue, sutures or stitches. In some cases, surgery might be required. Depending on the location of the wound and potential for infection, it may be able to heal naturally, while covered with gauze or a bandage. Antibiotics may be prescribed to protect the wound from infection.
If a wound has not healed within 30 days, it may be classified as chronic or non-healing, and will require further medical attention. Chronic wounds may take a long time to heal, never heal or recur. These wounds are common and reduce the quality of life for those affected.
Chronic wounds include ulcers, which are often associated with diabetes, arterial or venous disease, which is poor blood circulation. Other types of chronic wounds are pressure ulcers, post-radiation therapy ulcers, and ulcers caused by chronic bone infection, such as osteomyelitis.
These wounds sometimes require debridement. Chronic wounds are often so large that they cannot close on their own, and require surgery with skin grafts. These wounds are even less likely to heal if they become infected with bacteria, so depending on how severe the infection is, antibiotics may be considered.
Another characteristic of chronic wounds is that they are hypoxic, or have low oxygen levels in the tissue. Studies have shown that Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy improves the chance of healing for chronic wounds. If you have a chronic wound, talk to your doctor to see if this treatment is right for you.
Comprehensive wound care is a critical part of the recovery process for many patients. If you’ve experienced a wound or serious accident, talk to a physician about the benefits of wound care.
Dr. Page is with CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Orthopedics.